Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A Curiously Chocolate Radio

I've been saving Altoids tins for years. They're full of project possibilities: how much electronics could you cram into one? What neat things will people see when they peek inside?

From the outside this looks like an ordinary Altoids tin. But what's under the cover?

Why, it's a shiny pocket radio!

I got the circuit board out of a cheap FM radio, but I added the batteries and speaker. (The original radio only had head phones.) It turned out to be very difficult to get the antenna to work right. The original radio used the head phones to double as a loop antenna, but the speaker I replaced them with doesn't have long enough wires and wouldn't get any reception with the metal tin surrounding it. I solved it by running one leg of the audio out the back as an antenna wire, and I grounded the other side of the audio to the metal case.

Now the radio gets better reception than it did even before I hacked it!

The chocolate brown theme of the tin reminded me of old wooden cabinet phonographs, so I thought it would be neat to make the radio so that you prop the lid open to use it, as if it were from that era.

The speaker is held to the lid with foam tape, which keeps it from buzzing. The circuit board is held on one side with foam tape and screws on the other side, and the batteries are in a Radio Shack AAA battery holder, also secured with foam tape. I used 190 proof Everclear to pre-clean the inside of the tin, so the foam tape would stick tight.

I'm pleased with how this project turned out. It's one of the few projects I've actually seen through to completion in years - a testament to the wisdom of choosing a simple project. And it's something I will actually use!

What Am I Doing Here?

It's been another crazy semester, and I've no doubt lost my readers (all five of you) by not posting in so long. I've been suffering an existential crisis as to just what my blog is really all about.

I started blogging with the intention of writing about the business of software - and I will do so still from time to time - but it has been so long since my employment has dealt directly with coding that I feel I can no longer speak of it as an expert. When you're away from the front lines of software development, your memory of it becomes stale too quickly.

So I have to ask myself, who am I writing for and what would those people want to read? I will admit that I actually am writing for myself, but I do so with the suspicion that what I want to write, someone else may want to read.

For one thing, I think I will move most of my project pages off Google Pages, and turn them into blog posts from now on. Since Google has decided not to continue working on the Google Pages software, I don't know what will become of my website. Blogspot, on the other hand, has continued to improve, and I've learned how to add images to my posts.

I found that the most anecdotal narrative I've written yet, "Looting CompUSA", is also the one that rates highest on a Google search (indicating popularity). Clearly the personal touch does better than an intellectual essay.

One area that I've long neglected on this blog is my personal life. No more! My fiancee has asked why I don't talk about her on my blog, so let me start the new direction of my blog by announcing that I'm super excited because we just got our honeymoon trip booked!